Building Inclusive Housing

By John Guido

Katherine Black is a woman with a plan, a “plan for living independently.” On My Own? tells the story of this spunky woman who lives in L’Arche Hobart in Australia. This short film (part of the L’Arche International As I Am film series) is in turn hilarious and touching, informative and entertaining. It’s hard not to root for Katherine, a woman with an intellectual disability, determined to do whatever it takes “to be as free as a bird” – to live on her own, yet remain connected to the people who know and love her, the people “you depend on for independence.”

This film by Michael McDonald and Amber Herkey is a helpful addition to the conversation about a person’s home as not only a place to live, but also a path to increased choice, independence, and inclusion. Like Australia, there has been a shift in Canada away from the group home model towards individualized approaches that give persons with intellectual disabilities more control over where they live and with whom, and what supports they need to thrive. Yet as we see in “The Loneliness Statistic” (with data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics), the move to independence without supports for belonging and inclusion leaves many people lonely and isolated.

The Challenges of Systemic Change

Way back in 2006, Housing for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities, a paper written for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), named the gap between the housing people need and the housing that is available. The issue was not just finding the right places to live, but also finding the right supports. They wrote, “Adults, including those with intellectual disabilities, usually want to live independently. They want to make their own decisions on whom to live with, where to live, and what to do with their time. People with intellectual disabilities face extra challenges in working towards that goal, however…” These challenges include limited financial resources, limited support services, an inflexible service system, and fears and questions about safety.

Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, announces Canada's national housing strategy.


In 2018, the Canadian government recognized this challenge of appropriate housing for all persons with disabilities in Canada’s National Housing Strategy – A Place to Call Home. “People with disabilities face unique challenges in accessing affordable and appropriate housing. Inadequate social supports, insufficient financial assistance and inaccessibility of housing units all contribute to the difficulties they may face in their quest to live independently. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live on low incomes as those without a disability…”

Developing Inclusive Housing

The 2006 CMHC paper named best practices for housing for persons with intellectual disabilities: flexibility and choice, individualized funding, and person-centred approaches. And it named housing models that it could recommend as best practices including independent living, co-ops and other forms of co-housing, and (for those with the means) home ownership or adaption of a family home. These remain among the key options being explored today.

A report by the Community Living BC and Inclusion BC Inclusive Housing Task Force, “Home is where our story begins,” lays out a plan to increase what it calls “inclusive” housing. “Inclusive Housing means that people live in homes where they feel they are a part of their communities. They participate and have relationships with people in their community and have opportunities to make contributions and receive recognition. Inclusive housing should provide people with a sense of home and belonging within their community and promote quality of life. Inclusive housing includes the following five elements: Choice and control, Accessibility, Ratio of people with and without disabilities, Diversity, and Sustainability.”

The Canadian Association for Community Living and People First of Canada are leading a national initiative to develop housing options. “My Home My Community (MHMC) has launched three surveys to get a better idea of what it takes to give people with developmental disabilities more choice in the kind of housing they live in. Together, we are confronting the path of dependence and barriers to access that have left people with intellectual disabilities outside of affordable housing markets and community access for generations.”

L’Arche has much to learn – and much to contribute

Over the past decade, L’Arche Ontario and L’Arche Canada have been in dialogue with Greg Bechard whose work with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation was named in the National Housing Strategy as an example of an innovative model of independent yet supported housing for persons with intellectual disabilities. Greg speaks of creating “intentional community” by welcoming Good Neighbours to be part of the housing they have built and the community they are creating. We will write more on this important project and the concept of intentional community as a way to create inclusive housing.

The Vanier Suites illustrate the direction of the L’Arche Canada Growth Initiative. This project and others in various stages of development are bringing the Mission of L’Arche to life in new ways, “responding to the changing needs of our members (current and potential) while being faithful to the core values of our founding story.” This means learning from the experience of those in L’Arche communities (e.g. Arnprior and Stratford) who provide Supported Independent Living. And learning from the Elmira folks and others developing new forms of housing and the business models necessary to develop them. It also means discerning what is essential about the vision and values of L’Arche that must be renewed as we innovate and grow.

While it’s clear that we have a lot to learn, L’Arche also has a lot to contribute to the conversation about building inclusive communities. In fact, that 2006 CMHC paper also named the L’Arche model. “L’Arche was the only group home that was identified as a best practice. L’Arche homes exist in a number of provinces. All are faith-based, geared to aging in place, and feature employees who function more like family members than staff.”

Traditional L’Arche homes where persons with and without intellectual disabilities live, learn, and grow together remain an innovative housing model – as long as they remain places of welcome, are person-centred, nurture mutual relationships and interdependence, and create inclusion in the wider community.

Developing a wider range of options and person-centred planning is key to ensuring that each person has meaningful choice of where they live and the opportunity to follow their dreams. Like Katherine, most of us want to grow to our full potential and have a healthy amount of personal space and control, yet also have strong relationships with our neighbours and the people who know and love us. That’s the recipe for an inclusive community.


Life’s Tough Obstacles

It was late June. A park in Edmonton had been reserved. Food was stacked on picnic tables. Local students of all ages were dressed in taekwondo uniforms, preparing for their annual Break-a-thon. The Break-a-thon is an innovative fundraiser where martial arts students showcase their skills by breaking boards. For each broken board, donations are pledged and raised for L’Arche.

Taking our place in the inclusion movement

It is an important time for the accessibility and inclusion movement in Canada and the world, and L’Arche Canada is developing our capacity to take our place.

Silent encounter with the “man who repairs women”

Denis Mukwege begs us empathetically to remain attentive, to listen deeply to what is inherent in our human condition: our sensitivity and vulnerability.

Companions on the Journey: Part Two

The road of transformation has its breakthrough moments, yet it takes many twists and turns along the way. That’s why we need to nourish ourselves and the fellowship we share.

Companions on the Journey: Part One

John and Greg talk about how their friendship took root and has grown through mutual support for over thirty years.

Creative Connections

Creative Connections is a space for making art with persons with intellectual disabilities. It promotes belonging, diversity, and inclusion while extending the impact of L’Arche in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Continuing the Journey in Unity and Hope

With people around the world, the family of L’Arche mourned the death and celebrated the life of our founder, Jean Vanier. We are called to stay on his path.

L’Arche Joliette’s Zoom Media

This team of creators, designers and technicians offers full sound, image and video services to make their collaborators shine!

The important work of the Vanier Institute of the Family is a call to L’Arche

Today, L’Arche’s relationship with families is changing as we support more persons with disabilities living with their families and welcome them and their family members into our community life.

Sage and Time

Making community art unleashes creativity and builds bridges between seniors and the wider Sudbury community.

Inclusion Begins With Me

A conference on inclusion organized by L’Arche Agapè was an occasion to deepen understanding and recognize that “change will be achieved by breaking down barriers and creating awareness among people”.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

A play inspired by the stories of persons institutionalized for having intellectual disabilities, their families, and friends.

Journey to the Greatest Gift

In a Gala celebration, L’Arche Daybreak celebrated 50 years of creating the Beloved Community, discovering the sacred in the ordinary stuff of daily life – albeit with magic and space travel thrown in.

From Presence to Citizenship to Community

In order to promote meaningful inclusion, we need to build communities that welcome the gifts and contributions of all their members.

Give People their Place

As we celebrate the 50th of L’Arche in Canada, we’re amplifying the voices of persons with lived experience, sharing insights on creating belonging, diversity and inclusion in Canada.

Building a model of Inclusive Housing in Elmira, Ontario

Over the past decade, L’Arche has been connecting with the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation to learn how they are building “supportive affordable housing” for persons with intellectual disabilities, and to share our vision and experience.

Building Community through Art Discovering our Creative Potential

Hearts and Hands, the creative arts space of L’Arche Antigonish, is promoting creative expression, belonging, and inclusion in Nova Scotia through community arts.

Building Inclusive Housing

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada and offer L’Arche an opportunity for greater impact.

What belonging, diversity, and inclusion mean to me

L’Arche Canada is launching an online reflection to Celebrate the Gift of belonging, diversity, and inclusion by listening to the voices of persons with lived-experience and those who share life with them.

An Innovative Model of Life-Sharing in the Comox Valley

Innovative housing options that promote choice, autonomy, and inclusion are changing the landscape of disability supports in Canada. The Vanier Suites of L’Arche Comox Valley are a new model of shared living renewing the vision of L’Arche.

Presenting… Ross!

Now we’re delighted to introduce you to Ross Moncrieff, the second of the two individuals with intellectual disabilities selected for a session with a professional photographer.

Measuring Impact in the Movement for Inclusion

L’Arche delegates reflect on their experience and learning from the December 3rd Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion titled “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

“Painting is the song of the heart”

This artwork embodies the innate human desire to create a personal, physical mark which holds our fragile identity in the strength of an intentional creative gesture.

Presenting… Tiana!

Our friend Gil invited us to think about the importance of being “in the camera,” and inspired us to invite others to take their turn. We are delighted to introduce you to Tiana!

Community arts create a world where everyone is valued and belongs

The community arts movement and organizations like Art Hives build stronger communities and a more human society. L’Arche celebrates the unique gifts of artists and the community creative spaces where they thrive.

Celebrate the Gift

In October 2019, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of L’Arche Daybreak and of L’Arche In Canada. We will take time in the next 12 months to share our stories in many creative ways. L’Arche Canada will put a spotlight on the ways our vision and values respond to our world today, celebrating the gifts of belonging, diversity, and inclusion.

L’Arche Tova Café promotes Belonging and Inclusion in Winnipeg

Social purpose businesses or enterprises focused on food and hospitality are vibrant and innovative ways to promote belonging and inclusion. For over 6 years, L’Arche Tova Café has led the way not only for the city of Winnipeg, but also for L’Arche in Canada.

Storytelling “with”

L’Arche storytelling puts belonging, diversity, and inclusion at the centre to help us “imagine the world differently.”

Where is happiness, where is it…?

Happiness is a trendy topic. There are as many definitions of happiness as there are individuals, yet never has a civilization developed such precise models and ideas of what happiness should be.

Institutional life – a bit of context

Raphael Amato offers some background on the role of institutions in the 20th century

Listening to and amplifying the voices of marginalized people

Each message pays tribute first to a person’s story, highlighting and sharing the richness and diversity of these heartfelt testimonies.

L’Arche International Family Day

The first Saturday of October is L’Arche International Family Day. Discover the gift of L’Arche around the world and celebrate our solidarity with one another.

Setting our course for the next 50 years

Looking forward to an era where L’Arche people with and without disabilities join with others of like spirit to advocate and change society – making it more inclusive for everyone.

L’Arche London’s Gathering Place

One example of the increased impact L’Arche communities are having across Canada

Investing in Justice for Institutional Survivors

Patricia Seth, an institutional survivor, put it this way, “It was like living in a prison. The only thing is, we didn't know when we would even get out.” Inspired by the founding story of L’Arche, L’Arche in Ontario is engaging in Investing in Justice, a series of projects promoting healing and belonging, truth and reconciliation for survivors.

L’Arche Montérégie Art Workshop “Le Pot-en-ciel”

Le Pot-en-ciel is an art workshop that would not be if it weren’t for one member of L’Arche Montérégie who dreamed of a place where he and fellow artists could draw and paint together in a spirit of sharing and mutual teaching. Photography by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx.

Summer in the Forest: One L’Arche Perspective

Summer in the Forest is an extraordinary film – a feature-length documentary by British filmmaker Randal Wright beautifully shot and scored. The subjects of the film are Jean Vanier and several members of his community of L’Arche Trosly in France and of the L’Arche community in Bethlehem. (Vanier speaks in English with dialogue in French and Arabic with English subtitles.)

Holocaust Education Week: Remembering Aktion T4, the Nazi Euthanasia Program

A few years ago, I went with Mel Kirzner, a man with an intellectual disability who welcomed me to L’Arche in 1985, to visit the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden at the Reena Community Residence in Vaughan.

Social Inclusion Cannot Exist without True Community and Friendship

L’Arche Canada is participating in a series of round tables on the theme of “Living Together” – sharing life with and including persons who are vulnerable and marginalized in the heart of our communities.

L’Arche Canada’s monthly e-mail review of news, stories, and commentary about what is happening in L’Arche, with our partners, and within Canadian society.